Jewish World Review Feb. 4, 2003 / 2 Sdar I, 5763
Hi pal, come back
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | A pal of mine is calling it quits. A business legend, Ted Turner last week decided that he's had it with the job of vice chairman of AOL Time Warner, the sprawling global media company. And I hate to see him pack it in.
By way of full disclosure, I work for one of the world's largest media company's networks, CNN. Ted created CNN 23 years ago, with the help of Reese Schonfeld, Burt Reinhardt and a hardy band of renegades who thought they could change the world of television news. We thought so because Ted told us we could.
He led us, he called us "pal" even though he didn't know our names, he inspired us, and he was right. We succeeded beyond anyone's imaginings. Except Ted's, of course.
Ted's genius has always been his imagination, that's how he managed to build more networks than anyone in history: CNN, WTBS, TNT, TCM, Cartoon, Headline News. He bought the Braves and moved them to Atlanta. He bought the Hawks. He bought the world's largest movie library, MGM. He bought movie studios: Hanna-Barbera, New Line Cinema and Castle Rock.
Ted once told me that to the very core of his nature he's a builder and a buyer. But in 1996, he became a seller. Ted sold the Turner Broadcasting System to Time Warner for a lot of reasons, not the least of which were billions of dollars, and he accepted the title of vice chairman. Ted loved the money, but he hated the title. For Ted and many of us, it was as though Caesar had become a centurion, McArthur a colonel, Alexander the Great a counselor.
Ted, like all of us, is far from perfect.
This American original screwed up three marriages, overpaid Kirk Kerkorian for MGM, and I can't stand his liberal, one-world political views (he's not thrilled with mine, either).
He and the entire Time Warner board bought into the AOL deal three years ago. Ted has now lost most of his money in the stock collapse of AOL (he's down to his last billion and a half), and now he's giving up the hated title of vice chairman. And he hasn't decided whether to stay on the board of directors.
I hope Ted stays. Ted didn't return my phone call last week, I suspect because he didn't want to talk about his decision, and he knew I would try to encourage him to stay on the board at least.
Ted needs to help finish what he helped start. Restoring AOL Time Warner to primacy requires hard work, vision and imagination.
Few CEOs have inherited more challenges than AOL Time Warner's new chairman, Dick Parsons. Few have a tougher job. But he and his new management team are slowly making progress. Dick once said to me that he's a deal maker, not a deal breaker. And he's proved it time and again.
Ted, you and Dick can work this out. We need you and your imagination. I, for one, don't have enough imagination to consider the future of the company you helped build without you. Be a pal.
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